TSLA has chosen to digitize certain materials relating to the Tennessee State Guard in an attempt to give an account of the its history as a military organization during World War II, to recognize its contributions to the war effort and homefront security, and to draw attention to the fact that it was the largest state guard force in proportion to population in the nation at the time. Currently, no comprehensive account of that military unit’s history exists. The value of this material is increased due to the scarcity of official military records pertaining to the State Guard.

Brigadier General Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Jr.’s, Tennessee State Guard scrapbook comprises part of the Jacob McGavock Dickinson (1851-1928) Papers, 1812-1946. The papers of Jacob McGavock Dickinson (Tennessee Supreme Court Justice, 1891-1893; Assistant Attorney General of the United States, 1895-1897; Secretary of War, 1909-1911; and Chicago attorney) were given to TSLA over the span of thirteen years, 1956-1969, by his son, Jacob McGavock Dickinson, III, and other relatives; namely, Mrs. Henry Dickinson, Mrs. James Lowery and Hamilton Gayden, Jr. The collection, which consists of approximately 40,200 items, contains correspondence, speeches, sketches, photographs, clippings, personal memorabilia and scrapbooks, among other materials. The Tennessee State Guard scrapbook consists of 181 pages of material, from which many of the images depicted within this Tennessee State Guard database have been derived. Among these images are photographs, newspaper clippings, cartoons and maps. The scrapbook, maintained by Dickinson’s staff, primarily represents the activities of Middle Tennessee units.

Also included within this Tennessee State Guard collection are materials pertaining to the State Guard that originate from the Governor’s papers of Prentice Cooper, Governor of Tennessee from 1939 to 1945. The documentation contained within the Prentice Cooper Governor’s Papers contributes to a clearer understanding of State Guard activities across Tennessee as a whole. Governor Cooper’s papers were a gift from his widow, Mrs. Hortence Cooper, to TSLA in 1997. The collection consists of 283 boxes, some of which contain material relating to the Tennessee State Guard. Among the items in this collection are photographs, the Tennessee State Guard letterhead with emblem, the Oath of Enlistment and Allegiance, propaganda suggestions and proposed Tennessee State Guard gold sealed certificates.

As Col. Jacob McGavock Dickinson once stated, Tennessee state guardsmen "are not tin soldiers playing at war. These guardsmen are patriotic American citizens who work and drill earnestly in order to be a very real protecting factor inside the state during the emergency, while the national guard is away at military sites as part of the regular army." (Nashville Tennessean, November 7, 1941.) Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Jr., lawyer, breeder of Arabian horses, and World War I veteran, was appointed to lead the Middle Tennessee component of the Tennessee State Guard following the formation of that military organization by Governor Prentice Cooper in January 1941.

Governor Cooper was one of Tennessee’s governors elected to serve three consecutive terms (1939-1945). As wartime governor, his primary concern was the state’s war mobilization effort. Tennessee’s mobilization for war rested almost exclusively on a premier defense program established by Governor Cooper. Even before President Roosevelt proclaimed a national emergency, Governor Cooper had organized the Tennessee Defense Council, making Cooper what is believed to be the first governor to establish such a state defense council. In addition to the Tennessee Defense Council, Tennessee’s defense program was bolstered by Cooper being one of the first governors to send a representative to Washington to secure defense industry for the state. Wartime achievements included the construction of fifteen armories and the location of a billion dollars worth of war industry plants across the state; the establishment of the Naval Training School at Millington; and the creation of large military posts such as Camp Forrest, Camp Campbell and the Smyrna Air Base.

In anticipation that the National Guard troops would be called to federal service, Governor Cooper authorized the formation of the State Guard. Once again, Tennesseans did not falter in providing volunteer forces when the occasion arose. In this particular instance, however, those forces would serve strictly within the state’s boundaries as the Tennessee State Guard. Within a year, Tennessee’s State Guard became the fifth largest in the United States, the largest in the South and the largest state guard in proportion to its population.

"Whenever the President of the United States shall call any part of the National Guard of this State into active federal service, the Governor, under such regulations as the Secretary of War may prescribe for discipline and training, is hereby authorized to enlist, organize, maintain, equip, and discipline a volunteer defense unit other than the National Guard, to be known as the Tennessee State Guard." 15.1 PA 1941. The mission and purpose of the State Guard was to serve as Tennessee’s principal armed force when called upon by the Governor, as Commander in Chief, within the boundaries of the state. In the event the federal troops were called into active service, the State Guard would assume the responsibilities otherwise carried out by the federal troops. As such, duties of the State Guard included suppression of disorders and lawlessness; protection of life and property in situations arising from war, natural and otherwise; and any other duties deemed necessary by the Commander in Chief. But for occasional active service periods, all other time spent in service to the State, including time spent training to prepare for active duty, the guardsmen would serve without pay.

Originally, the State Guard was composed of three regimental units, each one headquartered in a different section of the state. The First Infantry Regiment, out of Memphis, was commanded by Colonel James W. Bodley; the Second Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel J. M. Dickinson, was headquartered in Nashville; and, the Third Infantry Regiment was out of Kingsport, under the command of Colonel James A. Gleason. When the State Guard expanded in 1942, all three of these initial regimental units were reorganized into brigades. From that point forward, the original First, Second and Third Regiments then comprised the First, Second and Third Brigades, under which there were formed seven additional regiments. Among the 40 promotions that took place at the time of expansion, Colonels Bodley, Dickinson and Gleason were promoted to Brigadier General.

Within this organization, the Governor would serve as the Commander in Chief; and, as of 1943, other commanders were as follows:

  • Major General T.A. Frazier, commanding the First Division
  • Colonel Fred J. Bertorelli, Acting Vice Brigadier General; James W. Bodley, deceased), commanding the First Brigade
  • Brigadier General Jacob McGavock Dickinson, commanding the Second Brigade
  • Brigadier General James A. Gleason, commanding the Third Brigade
  • Colonel John F. Gratz, First Infantry
  • Colonel Hunter McDonald, Second Infantry
  • Colonel William J. Donnelly, Third Infantry
  • Colonel Will W. Herron, Fifth Infantry
  • Colonel Kenneth G. Whitaker, Sixth Infantry
  • Colonel Walter K. Crawford, Seventh Infantry
  • Colonel John M. Abernathy, Tenth Infantry

Because of the requirements of the federal selective service, turnover in the State Guard was high. Recruits were lost to defense work as well. Originally, the organizational structure called for 230 officers and 3,867 enlisted men. In October 1941, the actual total strength of the State Guard was 2,248. During major hostilities, that number was 7,794.

In 1941, before most states had even finalized the organization of their units, Tennessee’s State Guard was already fully trained and equipped. That same year, all companies of the State Guard were placed on alert. Washington was notified that in the case any emergency would arise, the Tennessee State Guard was ready for immediate service.

Tennessee’s State Guard was the nation’s first State Guard to train under federal supervision. Approximately 100 officers spent two weeks training under army officers at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Those officers graduated from training on October 30, 1942. During this training period, officers studied protection of plants manufacturing war materials, riot duty and mapping.

Governor Prentice Cooper took an inspection tour of the officer training school at Ft. Oglethorpe just prior to the Tennessee State Guard officers’ graduation. At that time, he presented the men a state warrant in the amount of $10,600 to pay the officers for time spent in training. This was the first such check given as payment to the guardsmen for their duty. In speaking to the officers, Governor Cooper stressed that, as Governor of Tennessee, he saw his duty to establish an effective and efficient state guard as his biggest priority. Following this period of office training school, Governor Cooper met with brigade and regimental executive officers to revise the State Guard’s training program to meet the suggestions outlined by the United States Army officers at Ft. Oglethorpe.

In addition to the federal training for officers, a drill was held once a week for two and one-half hours. Beyond unit training, field training was held on various occasions. Tear gas and other chemicals, bayonet, and mob and riot control training sessions were also conducted. State guard organization provided for the existence of medical detachments, military intelligence, headquarters staffing, machine gun and chemical companies, and military bands. Furthermore, there were military application schools conducted at Vanderbilt University. Officers attended a special staff officers’ class at Fort Benning, Georgia. A State Guard Training Manual was also drafted. This training manual was believed to be the first state guard training manual in the United States.

An internal security plan was developed in conjunction with the Adjutant General’s office. This plan was classified and strictly confidential and identified vital points across the state. In addition, the plan provided for assignment of each of these vital points to a specific regiment and employed a system of notification. Company mobilization was practiced to ensure that the plan could be executed in the event of a security threat to the state.

Beyond maneuvers, training and parades, the service of the State Guard was utilized on several occasions. In general, the State Guard was alerted and on standby when a potential natural disaster or potential racial strife was a possibility. The State Guard also assisted the federal Army with manning certain posts; guarded armories for security of arms, ammunition, accessories, and property; directed and controlled traffic during federal maneuvers; participated in major scrap metal drives across the state; assisted civil defense operations with air raid warnings and blackout practice; and helped to raise money for the war effort.

In addition to these general functions, the State Guard was specifically called to duty in a number of instances. In 1943, Company G of the 10th Regiment spent 24 hours a day for one week outside Pulaski, Tennessee, guarding a B-17 bomber. The bomber had to make an emergency landing. The rough terrain and length of the field on which the bomber landed did not provide ideal circumstances for an appropriate take-off, requiring the bomber be partially dismantled. The presence of the B-17 bomber for that extended period of time required the services of the State Guard. Also in 1943, the State Guard was called in to patrol an area of downtown Bristol, Sullivan County, Tennessee, following a demonstration protesting the meeting of a religious sect. The presence of the State Guard was required to maintain peace after a riot ensued following the demonstration.

Service was also rendered by the Third Brigade in the form of rescue and relief work following an L&N train wreck in Jellico, Campbell County, in 1944. A report to the Adjutant General dated July 8, 1944 states "[t]he officers and men...did a splendid job in carrying out every order to the highest degree of efficiency...The C O also wishes to report that the officers and men of Company ‘C’ are always ready for such emergencies."

In 1945, four Nazi prisoners of war escaped from Camp Forrest. Although one had been captured, the State Guard was called to assist in apprehending the remaining three prisoners. Members of the Fayetteville guard, along with police forces, captured the prisoners at a cabin outside of Flintville, Lincoln County, Tennessee.

Although the State Guard faced understandable bottle-necks in the Adjutant General’s office with programs and funding, on and off charges of politics, press attacks, and administrative difficulties dealing with the increasingly complicated structure of the organization, it continued to develop and flourish during wartime. In fact, toward the end of the war, proposals were being introduced to equip the State Guard with aerial support and amphibious vehicles for Tennessee lakes and waterways.

Dark days lay ahead, however, in the face of the controversy and fallout from the Columbia Race Riot. In February 1946, the Second Brigade was involved in maintaining peace during two days of race riots in Columbia, Maury County. Governor McCord ordered the State Guard to assemble and assist the Tennessee Highway Patrol, which had been called in earlier to provide help to local police in a situation that quickly escalated from racial tension to violence. The State Guard spent several days in Columbia in an attempt to maintain peace. Hostility surrounding events that transpired in conjunction with the riot sparked a controversy that led to the resignation of various high-ranking guardsmen and most likely hastened the organization’s post-war demise.

Chapter 18 of Public Acts of 1947 states "[t]hat the Tennessee State Guard shall continue as such organization at the discretion of the Governor until the National Guard of this State shall be completely returned, re-formed, re-organized, armed and equipped into its appropriate units so as to be able to effectively execute its mission to the State of preserving order in any emergency..."

No official order or record regarding deactivation of the State Guard has been located. However, in accordance with Chapter 18, Public Acts of 1947, the State Guard would have been inactivated sometime after February 1947, the time at which the final portion of the National Guard remaining under federal service was released. The State Guard subsequently enjoyed sporadic existence until 1985, when it was reorganized.

  • Beeler, Dorothy. "Race Riot in Columbia, Tennessee, February 25-27, 1946." Tennessee Historical Quarterly 39, no. 1 (Spring 1980): 49-61.
  • "Dickinson Lauds State Guardsmen." The Nashville Tennessean (November 7, 1941).
  • Governor Prentice Cooper Papers, 1939-1945, Manuscripts Section, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Ikard, Robert W. No More Social Lynchings. Franklin, Tenn.: Hillsboro Press, 1997.
  • Jacob McGavock Dickinson (1851-1928) Papers, 1812-1946, Manuscripts Section, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.
  • "State Guard Patrols Block in Bristol After Riot Breaks Up Meeting Held by Religious Sect." The Nashville Tennessean (August 23, 1943): 1.
  • State Planning Board Tennessee Defense Council Records, 1940-1945, Manuscripts Section, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Tennessee Adjutant General’s Office. Tennessee State Guard Training Manual, 1943. Nashville, 1943.
  • Tennessee Defense Force (Tennessee State Guard) Collection, 1941-1991, Manuscripts Section, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.
  • World War II Salvage Commission, Tennessee State Salvage Committee Scrapbooks, 1942-43, Manuscripts Section, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.